Thursday, 15 January 2015


The following lecture, by Professor Marshall Hall was delivered at the Mechanics Institute Geelong on the 19th inst :

Ladies and Gentlemen,—

" Men ever talk and dream a deal of the better days that are nearing,

Towards a happy and perfect state one sees them all madly tearing,

The world grows old and the world grows young,

But 'improvement' is still on each man's tongue!"


" against stupidity even the gods are powerless."


For those who believe that the human race has still room for, and is essentially capable of, improvement, the question of education must be of paramount importance. "The Education of the Future " appeared to be the fittest term for our subject of discussion to night, inasmuch, as education, or leading-out, seems altogether a misnomer for that pernicious bastard process of stuffing-in, or, as it is called in its acutest form, cramming, of the mind, which at present generally obtains. This has been clearly pointed out by Mr Herbert Spencer in his masterly essay on " Education." which I take it for granted everyone here has read. It is not my intention to retail what this eminent scientist has so ably and irrefutably urged, but to notice a striking and vital omission in his argument. I will, however, beg leave to recall to your minds the facts which he has so indisputably established. They may be classed under two heads. What are the objects of education? How are those objects to be attained? Mr Spencer shows clearly that the object of education should be to prepare for (a) direct self preservation ; (b) indirect self preservation, which consists in acquiring the means of living ; (c) parenthood, or the knowledge of the bringing up of children ; (d) citizenship; (e) the miscellaneous refinements of life. Then he points out that the supreme factor in this education is science, which can only be understood by those who have been taught to observe facts and to perceive the principles underlying them. He goes on to argue that the faculties of perception must be brought into play before the reasoning faculties ; that he must start from the concrete and end in the abstract, that, in fact, the method of teaching which obtains in most of our schools and universities is irrational and pernicious.

So thoroughly has this great philosopher proved that both the objects and method of modern education are for the most part unscientific, and therefore comparatively useless, that it need only be remarked that his views have been from time immemorial upheld by artists of all kinds, and were powerfully put forward almost a hundred years ago by Arthur Schopenhauer, the prophet of science and philosophy, whose dicta every new scientific discovery goes apparently to confirm. But, on the other hand, it must be observed, that in separating, as he does, science and the fine arts, and setting the latter aside as the least essential elements of education, Mr Spencer denies the very principle he has so logically asserted, that the concrete must ever precede the abstract. For while the fine arts have certainly little bearing on self preservation, direct or indirect, no sooner do the more complicated feelings generated by man's social state come into play, than the fine arts become of the greatest educational importance. For through the fine arts man may be trained to experience all states of feeling, whose relations one with another are shown by science. Mr Spencer's most revolutionary and important principle is that each individual must be taught to observe the separate facts of life for himself ere he can understand their relations one to another; in other words, that the method of art, which is the contemplation of a thing per se, must precede that of science, which is the contemplation of the relationships of things. But if this holds good as regards the lower feelings, perceptions, sensations, as he has established, it must also hold good as regards the higher feelings ; for just as it is of very little use to cram the mind with formulas embodying the relations of facts which have never been experienced, but which are merely abstract ideas—words; so it is equally futile to give a man rules of conduct ere he has experienced the finer feelings whereby the equilibrium of our social relations one with another is preserved, from which, indeed, those rules have sprung. Reason and observation alike confirm the fact that a man will, as a rule, only act upon reason when his feelings correspond with its promptings, just as he will only really grasp a scientific formula when his perceptions have laid hold of the facts from which it has sprung. Mr Spencer, indeed, admits this, but does not seem to see its important bearing on his argument. That science cannot thus be split up and its parts separated will be even more clearly seen when we consider that it is now admitted by scientist, philosopher, and artist alike that the universe, and life itself, is actually nothing to us but a succession of states of consciousness, of feeling, using this term in the broadest sense. Professor Huxley has said,—"I remind you that we have seen clearly and distinctly, and in a manner which admits of no doubt, that all our knowledge is a knowledge of states of consciousness. 'Matter' and 'force' are, so far as we know, mere names for certain states of consciousness . . . Thus it is an indisputable truth that what we call the material world is only known to us under the forms of the ideal world; and as Descartes tells us, our knowledge of the soul (N.B., namely, of what we feel) is more intimate and certain than our knowledge of the body."  Thus we see that science, or the knowledge of the relations of things one with another, means a knowledge of the relations of the feelings one with another. And fine art, which is but another side of science, means the knowledge of a thing per se or the representation of certain experienced feelings I should remark that I invariably use the term feeling in its most comprehensive sense.

A further consideration of the relationship existing between man's nature and the fine arts will reveal the importance of Mr. Spencer's oversight. We perceive man to be the incarnation of a certain force, a blind irrepressible energy, the first efforts of which are directed towards maintaining life, then towards the gratification of the lower senses, which comes to mean the avoidance of pain, and finally to that of the higher senses, or the avoidance of boredom. In all cases the main feature in the character of this force is negative, a striving to avoid something. Now, pain and boredom (which is a mental pain) tend to diminish vitality ; from these therefore necessity constrains it to furiously struggle to free itself—a struggle which can never cease, as in the very nature of things monotony begets one or the other, and therefore tends towards death. On the other hand, regarded from a materialistic standpoint, this force makes itself known to us chiefly as a series of movements of that part of our physical structure whose action we understand by the term feelings. There is no limit to the number of different feelings which can be experienced, and each state of feeling must necessarily be accompanied by a corresponding physical movement ; and on the physical movements designated by feeling most of our actions in life depend. Moreover, science has ascertained to a great extent which actions tend to the good of mankind and which to the reverse, and, therefore, which feelings or physical movements ought to be stimulated, if possible, and which repressed or weakened. In different individuals, from hereditary and other causes, some parts of the physical system whose movements accompany these feelings are more sensitive than others and thus more easily excited, so that in each individual particular feelings tend to be constantly aroused.

Separating these feelings into two groups, for the sake of clearness in our argument, those tending towards the good of the race and those tending towards its harm, and seeing that these feelings are the means by which that irrepressible force or energy whose real nature we know not expresses itself, it follows that in everyone feelings tending immediately in one or other directions must be aroused, and the craving to satisfy such feelings will be a natural instinct which can only be annulled with life itself.

Supposing then, that a being existed (as do how many!) in whom those feelings which tend to the harm of the race were most developed, and suppose such a person to have been trained by science in the knowledge that such feelings ought to be suppressed what would be the consequence?  The vital force has now no outlet. Either pain or boredom ensue with their concomitant decrease of vitality; or else a violent reaction whereby the evil feelings gratify and compensate themselves to the fullest extent, while mere knowledge is powerless to restrain them. These facts which are so familiar to the observer of life make one consider whether the problem of education has been correctly enunciated, and whether it should not rather be re-stated thus:— The object of education is not only to teach mankind to know, but to do. But is this possible? I give no opinion in this point, which, however, civilised peoples have tacitly and almost unconsciously answered in the affirmative. At all events if they are right there is only one direct way of going about it. Evidently that part of each man's physical system, which when set in motion causes feelings tending to the good of the race, must be rendered as sensitive as possible and that part which tends in an opposite direction must by persistent disuse be rendered unimpressionable.

The problem of education then is, firstly to discover what feelings are desirable, which is the province of science proper ; and secondly, to render sensitive that part of the physical system whose movements correspond to those feelings, which is the province of fine art, and which we mean by artistic training. And once more I enter my protest against that shallowness of thought which essentially separates science and the fine arts. That which is commonly called science is the knowledge of the relations of things ; that which is called fine art is the knowledge, or better, the experience, of things in themselves. Both deal only with feeling—the one with the relations of feelings one to another, the other with each state of feeling per se. Again I quote Professor Huxley—"Nor is our knowledge of anything we know or feel more or less than a knowledge of states of consciousness. And our whole life is made up of such states. Some of these states we refer to a cause we call 'self'; others to a cause or causes which may be comprehended under the title of 'not-self.' But neither of the existence of 'self' nor of that 'not-self' have we, or can we by any possibility have any such unquestionable and immediate certainty as we have of the states of consciousness which we consider to be their effects. They are not immediately observed facts, but the results of the application of the law of causality to those facts. Strictly speaking the existence of a 'self' and 'not-self' are hypotheses, by which we account for the facts of consciousness. . . hypothetical assumptions which cannot be proved or known with that highest degree of certainty which is given by immediate consciousness." In other words Professor Huxley admits that the only exact science is art, for it alone deals only with immediate consciousness. This is the fact from which art derives its immense value, so that we look up to the greatest artists of the world as a superior race and give them a distinctive title, that, of genius.

The word-poet expresses his feelings, namely the series of impressions made on him by life in its various aspects— by means of metaphor, simile, allegory, and all kinds of cunning combinations of concepts. It matters, indeed, little what means he uses so long as they serve the scientific purpose of enabling his readers to understand the gradations of feelings which his object is to trace. Mr. Spencer alludes to the philosophical fallacies contained in the teachings of Shelley's poems. While admitting the fallacies, I utterly deny that it detracts from the value of the poems. The object art sets before herself is not to teach anything at all, but to record facts of feeling. The value of art to the world is in inverse proportion to its didacticism. Shelley's poems are great, in spite of their supposed teachings, because these very teachings help to convey accurately the feelings of a certain type of human being. He who reads poetry for the sake of the philosophy it contains utterly misunderstands the functions and limits of art. These functions and limits were truly felt very likely in a purely intuitive manner, by Shelley, because he was a born artist and could not help himself. Therefore whatever he does, he does no more than carefully delineate his feelings, and it is this alone that gives his work scientific value and causes it to live. That the subject matter of his poems was often didactic in character, and that its teachings were often wrong, is of no consequence, for the scientific artist will trace out for us not only the feelings of men who think rightly, but of those who think wrongly. Such poems are to be considered as soliloquies, and the reader who wishes to learn what art can teach of scientific fact must ask himself whether, after reading a work of this nature, he has been made to understand the soliloquiser's feelings—his inner nature. If so, he has learnt all art has to teach. If, on the contrary, he were to ask himself whether the subject matter of the poem were philosophically true, he has gone altogether beyond the province of art, and entered that of philosophy, whose sphere is absolutely distinct.

It not infrequently happens that the character which the artist is depicting is of a philosophical turn of mind, such as Hamlet, Faust, and the lover in "Maud." Whether their philosophisings are true or not matters nothing to the artist, who looks on their utterances merely as a means of correctly delineating temperament and individuality, and uses them for this end alone. It is true one reads with profound interest the opinions of so intelligent an observer of human nature as Hamlet, or Faust, and of so sensitive a mind as the lover in "Maud." But to say that Shakspeare, Goethe, or Tennyson thought as these would be an absurdity ; for the great artist never lets his own individuality intrude upon his work. If Shakspeare took himself as a life study for Hamlet, then of course we should, but as it were, accidentally, get his opinion on life.

Again, in the higher forms of the drama there is no object save to give a typical delineation of life, as it presents itself in the consciousness of the artist. When in King Lear, or Macbeth we see the innocent and guilty alike overwhelmed, we recognise that these incidents only occur, because they happen also in life, and are not meant to convey any sort of moral. It is, indeed, because Shakspeare draws no moral, and has nothing to teach—in other words, never obtrudes his own personality upon his work—that he draws life so accurately, and that his plays are such valuable scientific facts. For in them the circumstances and characters of life are so truthfully recorded, as it were, by a sort of selective mechanical photography, that the philosopher who wishes to teach us how to live may study his facts from Shakspeare even better than from life.   

It can be now seen why drama is the most difficult of all artistic achievements, for in it the artist must necessarily entirely lose consciousness of himself, his own individuality and personal opinions, in order to deliver himself up to the contemplation of life, which otherwise cannot be accurately understood and delineated. Hence the numerical paucity of enduring dramas. In a poem however, the artist can, if he choose, take himself as subject.

In a word the province of art is not to think, to reason, to philosophise to teach, but to supply accurate materials for the thinker, the reasoner, the philosopher, the teacher. It is only those who are incapable of thinking for themselves who will demand anything else. 

Just as a poet portrays his feelings by means of concepts, so the painter reveals himself by means of what the eye can see. As the eye can see nothing but light in its varied aspects, known to us as colour and form, the painter as such can be understood only as the poet of light. The feelings which life arouses in him are revealed by the various qualities of light, that is to say by form and colour, using these terms generically. He chooses a particular subject because its form and colour are such as accurately conveys his feelings through the eye. He is indeed only a painter in so far as he realises his feelings in these qualities of light ; if he chooses his subject for any other reason he may be a philosopher, or a litterateur, but he is certainly not a painter. And if such a one devotes himself to painting his work will be of no value to the world, for life is not long enough to study thoroughly more than one branch of science or art it a time, and what insignificant fraction of moral philosophy it may be possible to teach in painting through the subject matter will be altogether counterbalanced by the gross untruthfulness and therefore immorality of the form and colour.

To what a dilemma are those shallow persons brought who ignorantly wish to confuse art with philosophy. For no one person can at the same time lose himself in the contemplation of a thing per se and in the relations of things with one another. Form and colour reveal the one science and philosophy the other. It is only possible to unveil one side of truth at a time. To require of an artist to produce a work of art which teaches something is to demand of him to construct a solid square, all sides of which may be seen by one person at the same time.

He then that looks to anything but the pictorial qualities of a painting or expects the painter to paint anything but what he feels, is simply refusing to hear the truth which Nature has expressly fitted the artist to enounce, and is demanding of him an absurdity, which all said and done, has but little significance or importance. In The Argus of July 2 Mr Cole, in a valuable lecture which everyone should read, endorses and expands these views in the most able manner.

The feelings which poetry expresses through the intellect, and painting through the eye, are expressed through the ear by music. The most direct natural channel whereby the feelings express themselves in all human beings is the voice ; and from the sounds thus naturally produced by the contraction and relaxation of muscles consequent on the varied fluctuations of feeling, music is derived. Indeed music is nothing but an idealised form of speech that is to say a form of speech which is able to render accurately all shades of emotion,instead of giving an indefinite general idea of them. Again I must refer you to Mr Spencer's masterly treatise on "The Origin and Function of Music from which I quote some explanatory extracts. " All feelings, then— sensations or emotions pleasurable or painful —have this common characteristic that they are muscular stimuli . . . We may set it down as a general law . . . that there is a distinct connection between feeling and motion ; the last growing more vehement as the first grows more intense . . . mental excitement of all kinds ends in excitement of the muscles. . . Thus we find all the leading vocal phenomena to have a physiological basis. They are so many manifestations of the general law that feeling is a stimulus to muscular action. . . a law which lies deep in the nature of animal organisation. The expression of these various modifications of voice is therefore innate. Each of us, from babyhood upwards, has been spontaneously making them when under the various sensations and emotions by which they are produced. Having been conscious of each feeling at the same time that we heard ourselves make the consequent sound, we have acquired an established association of ideas between such sound and the feeling which caused it. When the like sound is made by another, we ascribe the like feeling to him, and by a further consequence we not only ascribe to him that feeling but have a certain degree of it aroused in ourselves ; for to become conscious of the feeling which another is experiencing is to have that feeling awakened in our own consciousness, which is the same thing us experiencing the feeling. Thus the various modifications of voice become not only a language through which we understand the emotions of others but also the means of exciting our sympathy with such emotions. . . And thus we may in some measure understand how it happens that music not only so strongly excites our more familiar feelings  but also produces feelings we never had before, arouses dormant sentiments of which we had not conceived the possibility, and do not know the meaning, or, as Richter says, tells us of things we have not seen and shall not see.". . . . . . . .  .

 The Argus 23 July 1892,

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